With Entrepreneurship, Mentoring Makes All the Difference
Who springs to mind when you think about successful young entrepreneurs? How about 13-year-old Moziah Bridges, the budding bow-tie manufacturer and youngest CEO ever to compete on the popular TV show “Shark Tank.” Despite the fact that Moziah Bridges didn’t land a deal on the hit show, Shark Tank investor Daymond John decided to take Moziah under his wing. What blossomed was a mentoring relationship that took Moziah from $55,000 in bow-tie sales to more than $200,000 and a deal with Neiman Marcus in under two years.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a celebrity entrepreneur to make a difference in a young person’s life the way Daymond John has with Moziah Bridges. Everyday entrepreneurs, including many from startups, are having a huge impact on budding youth entrepreneurs across the country.
Consider the story of Tanisha in BUILD, an entrepreneurship program in Boston that focuses on low-income disengaged youth. Tanisha entered BUILD as an angry-at-the-world ninth-grader from a family of five children in which only one other sibling managed to finish high school. Tanisha’s company was Blind Vision, which produced custom-designed wallets, purses and eyeglass cases made from duct tape. Tanisha learned to make duct tape wallets while she was in the hospital after trying to commit suicide at age 14.
When Tanisha entered BUILD, she was paired with two mentors. Talya Jones was a community advocate, and Theodora Higginson was a recent graduate from business school. Together, they helped Tanisha launch Blind Vision. They coached her on how to write a business plan including a marketing and sales strategy, prepped her to pitch to investors to back the project, helped her develop her product displays and packaging, and even learned how to manufacture the duct tape wallets themselves, so they could help Tanisha increase her inventory.
Not surprisingly, as the CEO of her own company, Tanisha’s self-confidence blossomed as her skills as a saleswoman and public speaker increased. By her junior year, Tanisha’s business was making a profit, and at the end of her senior year, Talya and Theo attended her high school graduation.
If you’d like to put your entrepreneurial skills to work as a mentor to help more students like Tanisha, you’re in luck. There are youth entrepreneurship programs all across the country, and new ones are springing up each year. Check out Junior Achievement and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), both of which have offices in almost every state. There are also programs like BUILD and Youth Cities, which are gaining a foothold in major urban areas nationwide. Time commitments can range from two hours a week to just two hours a month, depending upon the program.
Many people question whether they have enough experience to be a mentor. Generally speaking, if you have professional work experience or have been in the trenches as an entrepreneur for over a year, then you have what it takes to be a good mentor and pass along your knowledge and insights to the next generation. Mentors come in all shapes in sizes. Some are seasoned professionals, some are serial entrepreneurs, retirees, recent college grads and everything in between. What most mentors have in common is that they care about youth and are passionate about giving back.
Research shows that the skills needed to come up with a business idea, and then execute it, are the same ones needed for academic and career success. The ability to communicate and collaborate, to problem solve and innovate and to persevere through the inevitable highs and lows of launching a new business are the 21st Century skills needed to thrive in today’s economy.
So whether or not your mentee’s business soars, pivots or flops, you can rest assured that by being a mentor you are having a powerful impact on a young person’s life. And who knows? Maybe you will discover the next Moziah Bridges.